Cultural Memories of State Violence: A Comparative Study of Kwangju and Hiroshima

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S/N Korean Humanities Vol.6 No.1 pp.17-46 ISSN : 2384-0668(Print)
ISSN : 2384-0692(Online)

Mikyoung Kim
Independent Researcher

Received January 16, 2020; Revised version received February 24, 2020; Accepted February 28, 2020


This article compares two sites of state violence in Asia, Japan’s Hiroshima and Korea’s Kwangju, in order to analyze commemoration of state-initiated civilian sufferings. Despite common symptoms of traumatic experiences at individual level, commemorative practices exhibit striking differences at societal level. Hiroshima is still in mourning over its own victimhood, while remaining relatively ambivalent about Japan’s role as the perpetrator of other countries. The controversies surrounding the renovation project of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum from 1985 until 1994 show the city’s willingness to promote its moral authority as the anti-nuclear pacifist leader, whereas the municipal leadership conceded to make political compromises. Kwangju, the place of civilian massacre in May 1980, on the other hand, has undergone dramatic transformation from the site of antigovernment protests to the mecca of Korea’s democratization movement. The trajectory of the May 18 Democracy Cemetery shows Kwangju’s ideational transformation from a victim to the hero of Korean democracy. A cross-cultural comparison of the two commemorative sites of state violence shows the way in which Japanese cultural modes of ambivalence and situational logic permit ambivalence, whereas Korean cultural modes of self-victimization and resistance negate a post-hoc aggrandizement of the tragic past.

Key Words : state violence, cultural memory, commemoration, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, May 18 Kwangju, Unjung-dong cemetery, Mangwol-dong cemetery, hollow center, Han-resistance

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